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In honor of the Oscars I wanted to post this. I do believe, as creative beings, art is necessary in our lives.  However, there is a lot of crap out there.  It becomes a meaningful spiritual experience when we behold something truly great. I saw the film “3 Colors: Blue” recently.  It was clearly a great film. Certainly a cut above so much of what’s out there.  But, I wondered, why is that?  I don’t know what criteria is used for the Oscars, but here are mine:

First rate acting, of course.  Since this film was largely Juliette Binoche as the heart, it was her acting which really needed to be on.  And she was fabulous!

As a writer, I always look for good writing.  This film, though brilliantly written, was not about the words. Maybe that’s not so crucial.  Let’s say the writing needs to be top notch to be a great film, there just doesn’t have to be a lot of it.

What it also had was stunning and often thought-provoking visuals.  A film is, after all, a visual medium. Stories should be told substantially through the scenes.  What you see in a great film has almost as much to do with the story and character development as the words they’re speaking.

It is a foreign film.  So the action was sparse, as well.  The thread of the story, though, pulled you along.  That must be a qualification: a strong thread.

It was deep.  About deep emotions and thoughts.  It dared to show day-to-day activities, ones we can all relate to, which illustrate and often confront that emotion.

There was a scene where a cube of sugar is dipped into a cup of coffee.  The writer and director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, in the extras, gave us a rather extensive description of what that action was to represent and how the absorption had to be exactly 5 seconds long.  He told of all the time they took to get just the right sugar cube!  Careful attention to the details is always the hallmark of a great film.

God is in the details.  And so is a great film. A careful (if not obsessive ) eye on everything is essential, making sure everything contributes to the story, pulls the thread and moves the emotion and attention of the viewers.

Sometimes these details come out in happy coincidences (or the hand of the muse.)  In the original version of this story, our heroine was supposed to be seen regularly jogging.  They ended up having to change it to swimming.  This more closely evoked the emotional distance they were trying to portray, as well as giving another blue light to the film.  Perfect!

People who care, bring together the right elements, no matter the budget and allow fate and circumstances to fill in the rest.  Perhaps this comes from the clear vision of the director, allowing for changes, but knowing the true intent.

I think a great film has to have something to say.  Messages of all stripes are welcome. What’s most crucial is that the makers of the film are clear about what it is they want to say and feel it’s important.  I like to see some growth in the main character, too. The film, to be great, needs to have a purpose, a point to make.  (Sometimes that point may be that we need funny movies.  See Sullivan’s Travels – another great film.)

In summary I’d say a great film has to have something to say, to share.  It must have exceptionally good acting (at least from the central character), visuals which, along with strong writing express well, a compelling story.

When you finish watching a great film, you should feel something.  You can tell you were affected in some way.  There’s a sense of awe and quiet.  You know you were just in the presence of greatness.

For a change of pace, today, I wanted to talk Film.  A movie, in my opinion, is pure entertainment and not much more.  Lots of fun.  Probably well written, but nothing really redeeming about it.  Sullivan’s Travels (a tremendous film) explains how these movies hold an important place.  I sure love a good movie!

But I’m talking about something else, today.  A film touches you in many ways. I don’t know if there’s a film out there which has all the characteristics I’m going to point out.  But it must have at least a few of them to be considered a “Film.”

Obviously, and foremost, it needs to be well written.  In my opinion, that’s the single most important factor.  I may be a bit prejudiced here, but I think it’s true.  A movie may have some of the other factors,  but if it’s not well written, if the story isn’t engaging, wanders around or leaves you scratching your head, it’s just not a film. It could have attractive actors, flashy special effects, but without the story it’s just another movie.

Another important characteristic is being well acted. I have chosen to watch a film just on the strength of its actors.  Doesn’t always work, but it helps if you have talent. I have found time and again that a good performance can save an otherwise waste of time.  Johnny Depp in everything (even movies or films I would normally show no interest in) makes it a joy. I’m of the belief that even a great actor can’t make bad material work, but I could be wrong.  Fine acting should definitely be a part of the honor of Film.

The cinematography also ranks high for me.  It is, after all, a visual medium.  Special effects are fun, can enhance scenes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Cinematography is about light and shadow, camera angles and lenses.  Very technical stuff.  But oh so much about art, too.  It has to do with how a film looks, which in turn, evokes emotion.

I’m often in tune with the soundtrack of a film.  Sometimes just having great music can raise a movie’s rankings, for me.  1996’s Kingpin, though still probably a movie, has a bit more status because of the excellent soundtrack.

For me, though, the deciding factor rests in how the film leaves me feeling.  Do I remember images days after watching it? David Lynch is especially good at that.  Perhaps there were profound lines that I carry with me. It’s crucial that a film have some kind of message.  Or maybe if it shows a character’s growth into being a kinder, more loving person.  This kind of “purpose” will do nicely.  If the film has lifted my spirits, I will certainly put it in the running for Film.

I have watched a lot of television in my time. My father was in television and believed in it for education and entertainment. My husband is particular about his television shows, but has turned me on to many. Of all the thousands of hours I have spent watching TV, I could count, on one hand, the shows that made me laugh, consistently, out loud, several times over the course of a 20 or 40 minute show. Off the top of my head, I come up with two: the original Dick Van Dyke Show with its amazing crew of writers and talented cast, and Mork and Mindy, with its odd characters and funny dialog. I have no wish to cast these as the only funny series in the last 50 years or so. I’m sure there are others which could live up to my laugh meter. I only wish to make a point that they are few and far between.
There was a sign at one of Obama’s town halls this summer which read, “Please, Obama, Bring Back Arrested Development.” I would have to agree with that. Well, after he’s taken care of a few other things or with the quick signing of a declaration.

Arrested Development (2003-2006, Fox TV) could well be the funniest show ever shown on the show show-er. An excellent, very funny cast, and great jokes that linger on and provide a few extra chuckles long after the show has drifted into memory. And well into its third season, the scripts continue to deliver a high ratio of laugh-out-loud moments to time spent.

Now, I can find little in the way of spiritual messages from it, even redeeming characteristics. (I realize I have found meaning in the words of a wavy-haired serial killer). Arrested Development is about an extremely dysfunctional family. No one shows any sign of growing or changing from their experiences. They seem to become more of who they are, more crazy and dysfunctional.

There was a brilliant movie in the early 40s, Preston Sturgis’ “Sullivan’s Travels.”  One of those they-don’t-make-‘em-like-they-used-to pictures. Starring Joe McCrea. Joel is a successful Hollywood director of big budget comedies. He longs to give back, to do a film that’s about something Important. Figuring he has been too pampered all his life, he decides to strike out on the road with a bandana on a stick, the shoes on his feet, and the clothes on his back.

This is a wonderful film, not to be missed. So I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say the message of the film is there is much good in giving people a chance to laugh.

Today, we have Arrested Development to add some much-needed light and laughter to the world. Well worth the time.



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